Our lords and masters over at Disney continue their quest towards complete financial domination with yet another retread- er, I mean, “reimagining,“ of a beloved animated classic. This time, they take their hands at Aladdin, 27 years after the animated film and third entry into the Disney Renaissance that began a few years prior with The Little Mermaid (which is still awaiting its live action do-over).
Disney has been going at these live action remakes for a few years now, but are really kicking things into high gear this year with three on the docket. Dumbo has already come and gone without anyone caring, and Aladdin has had a solid opening with The Lion King still to come in just a couple of months. This Aladdin is almost a complete copy of the animated original in terms of structure, key plot points, and, most importantly, songs. All of the fan favorites are here, only this time they are being performed by Will Smith instead of Robin Williams.
Oh yeah, we should probably talk about that. Robin Williams famously starred as the Genie nearly thirty years ago. It is only natural that there would be some trepidation with fans about anyone having to fill those magical shoes, and the uphill climb was turned into a free climbing trip up Everest when the first trailer dropped and launched enough memes to satisfy even the most miserly of sultans. Fast forward a few months, and it turns out that Will Smith’s version of the Genie is actually one of the brightest spots of the film, and that Disney should have perhaps waited a little bit for the CG artists to work on the model so that it didn’t look like a cheap Snapchat filter. Smith is very charismatic and smooth in the role, contrasting with Williams’ manic portrayal.
The same can’t be said for all of the cast members, unfortunately. The portrayals of the titular Aladdin and the nemesis Jafar leave a lot to be desired, as they lack a lot of charisma and can’t command the screen the way the aforementioned Smith or Naomi Scott as Jasmine. Jafar in particular so often seems like just a guy, and his inability to be menacing means that virtually all of the conflict starts off flat footed. Combine this with the fact that the limp portrayal of Aladdin is sandwiched between either Genie or Jasmine in almost every scene, and you get a film in which half of the main cast fails to carry their own weight.
As for the rest of the film, if you like the animated Aladdin, then you are probably going to like this one. It is the same film with a new pair of shoes with only a few differences-which come with mixed results. While most of the songs are pretty much the exact same, there are new ones, one of which feels like it was ripped straight from Frozen, and which felt really out of place as a result. There are a couple of new characters which have disappointingly small roles. The first is a handmaid to Jasmine who ends up having a relationship with Genie despite the two getting very little screen time together in what feels like more of a contrivance than something genuine. There is also a sort of leader of the guard who has a key moment after doing little to nothing for the duration of the film. Giving either of the characters more to do would have made their additions more than some extra filler.
Other than some of the weaker leads, the only other major flaw is how rushed the ending feels. Once Jasmine finished her impression of Elsa, the film can’t wait to start heading out the door, as the ending comes fast and without much impact. After spending the whole film fighting between being himself, or who he thinks he needs to be, Aladdin has his great change of heart and realization in about 20 seconds while walking home. From there it’s just a hop skip and a jump back to the palace to take on Jafar and stop his nefarious deeds, such as placing Aladdin at the top of a mountain which must only be a few hundred meters away, as he returns quite quickly once Genie sends carpet to go get him. After that he breaks Jafar’s magic stick before very easily outwitting him to seal the lukewarm tyrant into a lamp and tossed aside like some dirty socks. Then everyone’s love stories work out, and the credits role. This film has a run time of just over two hours, so it was not exactly pressed for time which makes the rushed ending feel quite jarring, and spoils what is otherwise a fine commercial product.